Monday, March 27, 2006

Not so distant mirrors 

Ariel Dorfman writing in the Guardian UK: Out of Fear
In Memoria del Saqueo (2004) he denounced the way in which previous governments, allied with the multinationals and the International Monetary Fund, had looted land that was once the bread-basket of the world and now could not feed its own people. Many of the "nobodies" documented by Solanas endure an existence on the outer margins of destitution, where hunger and unemployment are the recurring spectres and communal soup kitchens the solution.

As a frequent visitor to Buenos Aires (I was born there), I had witnessed the protest marches of the piqueteros and the fervent solidarity among the poor that enabled them to outlast the crisis. But Solanas amazed me by uncovering a series of stories from more well-to-do sectors of Argentinian society who have confronted the degradation of their lives with a sort of gentle ferocity, like the workers who take over their abandoned ceramics factory and refuse to stop production, or the doctors and nurses who keep their disintegrating hospital afloat through ingenuity and pluck. But the most remarkable saga of them all is the struggle of the chacareras, middle-class women farmers who confront the threat of expropriation of their small land-holdings by singing the national anthem interminably (and off-key) at one public auction after another, drowning out the judges and policemen and effectively blocking the sale of the property - a humorous tactic of non-violent resistance that has saved thousands of properties from being devoured by banks and corporations. The whole film is peopled with similar unassuming victories so that we end up deeply moved by the ways in which these nobodies have rescued not only their own dignity but the honour of their ravaged land.

Below the surface of these inspirational stories lurk all manner of ambiguities. Solanas admits that this resistance has not come up with a unified and viable alternative to current mainstream policies, a political fragmentation for which the film-maker tries to compensate - inadequately in my view - through his own rather intrusive versified narration. But that is not the only circumstance that undermines the potency of the popular movement. Although the state can no longer repress dissidents as it did in the savage years of the Argentinian dictatorship, the film subtly reveals how the threat of violence incessantly surrounds its subjects.

It is true that the one assassination depicted in The Dignity of the Nobodies - Darío, a young activist - creates such a public furore that the officers responsible are put on trial. And it is a delight to watch those unarmed women farmers flummox their adversaries by belting out the national anthem while the police stand by indecisively. Yes, the military is discredited and weakened and cannot massacre those who dare to rebel. But the rebels themselves know all too well that the terror of the past can easily return, that this terror, in fact, is not really in the past as long as it can be remembered.

State of Fear shows all too clearly how terror can contaminate a country. This timely film by Pamela Yates, Paco de Onís and Peter Kinoy crisply recounts how the Peruvian struggle against terrorists (in this case the messianic sect known as Shining Path, responsible for the death of 30,000 indigenous peasants, in the name of the oppressed Indians of the Andes) eventually degenerated into state genocide and the destruction of the democracy supposedly being defended. As if trapped in a suspense film, we are forced to follow this escalation of violence step by tragic step, slowly understanding how so many Peruvians were poisoned by this maelstrom of madness and cruelty.

This documentary is a hymn to the victims and, above all, to the human rights defenders who stood up against these abuses and helped bring down a president, Alberto Fujimori, who used the war on terror - in ways chillingly reminiscent of George W Bush - to consolidate his absolute power and shield himself and his corrupt cronies from scrutiny. State of Fear is primarily an indictment of those who, in the words of journalist Gustavo Gorriti, had a "savage, wild resistance to the truth", those who did not want to acknowledge the horrors that were being perpetrated in order to guarantee their safety. "Where was I then?" asks an anguished Beatriz Alva Hart, who had been willfully blind to the suffering and repression raging around her until, as a member of the Truth Commission investigating 20 years of human rights violations, her eyes were opened.

(continue reading at link above)

About Ariel Dorfman: profile

Recent posts by author: Guardian UK



Far out on the desert to the north dustspouts rose wobbling and augered the earth and some said they'd heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang. Out of that whirlwind no voice spoke and the pilgrim lying in his broken bones may cry out and in his anguish he may rage, but rage at what? And if the dried and blackened shell of him is found among the sands by travelers to come yet who can discover the engine of his ruin? ~ Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian

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